Family Problems, Mental Health and Trauma Experiences of Justice-Involved Youth

Main Article Content

Richard Dembo Jessica Faber Jennifer Cristiano Jennifer Wareham Julie M. Krupa James Schmeidler Asha Terminello


Youth involved in the justice system remain an underserved population at elevated risk for multiple problems, including substance abuse, mental health, and sexually transmitted infections.  Many of these youth have experienced painful childhoods involving multiple forms of victimization, including abuse and exposure to trauma.  Among the causes of the problems of these youth, family issues remain significant factors needing increased elucidation.  Using data on male and female youth entering the justice system, we studied the relationships among: (1) family member alcohol abuse, family member other drug abuse, and biological parent spending time in jail or prison, and (2) youth involvement in bullying, experience of depression, being sexually assaulted, and alcohol/other drug involvement in the past year.  Results indicated family problems of alcohol use, drug use, and parental incarceration were positively correlated across both genders; and youth problems of drug use, depression, bullying, and sexual assault were also generally positively associated with one another across gender.  Gender differences were found in the prevalence of each of these problem areas, with female youth reporting higher rates of family alcohol and other drug abuse problems, parental incarceration, involvement in bullying, being sexually assaulted, and depression, than male youth. There were significant relationships between a number of family problems and youth problems, with gender differences in a number of these relationships.  For example, among boys, no family problem factors were related to being sexually assaulted, whereas among girls a significant, positive relationship was found between family alcohol problems and being sexually assaulted.  Practice implications of the findings are discussed.

Keywords: Family problems and youth trauma, justice-involved youth, juvenile arrestee mental health and other trauma issues, male and female youth family problems and trauma experiences

Article Details

How to Cite
DEMBO, Richard et al. Family Problems, Mental Health and Trauma Experiences of Justice-Involved Youth. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, jan. 2018. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 feb. 2024. doi:
Research Articles


Abram, K. M., Teplin, L. A., Charles, D. R., Longworth, S. L., McClelland, G. M., & Dulcan, M. K. (2004). Posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 403-410.
Abram, K. M., Teplin, L. A., McClelland, G. M., & Dulcan, M. K. (2003). Comorbid psychiatric disorders in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of general psychiatry, 60(11), 1097-1108.
Acierno, R., Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H., Saunders, B., De Arellano, M., & Best, C. (2000). Assault, PTSD, family substance use, and depression as risk factors for cigarette use in youth: findings from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 13(3), 381-396.
American Psychological Association. (2014). Incarceration nation. Monitor on Psychology, 45(9). Retrieved from
Amstadter, A. B., Elwood, L. S., Begle, A. M., Gudmundsdottir, B., Smith, D. W., Resnick, H. S., ... & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2011). Predictors of physical assault victimization: Findings from the National Survey of Adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 36(8), 814-820.
Angold, A., & Costello, E. (1993). Depressive comorbidity in children and adolescents: Empirical, theoretical, and methodological issues. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 1779-1791.
Atkinson, A., Anderson, Z., Hughes, K., Bellis, M. A., Sumnall, H., & Syed, Q. (2009). Interpersonal violence and illicit drugs. London: Centre for Public Health.
Beatty, C. (1997). Parents in prison: Children in crisis (Issue Brief). Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
Bentler, P. M. (1990). Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 238-246.
Bloom, B. (1995). Imprisoned mothers. In K. Gabel & D. Johnston (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents (pp. 21-30). New York: Lexingon Books.
Bovasso, G. (2001). Cannabis abuse as a risk factor for depressive symptoms. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 2033-2037.
Briere, J., & Elliott, D. M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in a general population sample of men and women. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27(10), 1205-1222.
Bronson, J., Stroop, J., Zimmer, S., & Berzofsky, M. (2017). Drug use dependence and abuse among state prisoners and jail inmates, 2007-2009. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Brown, J. L., Sales, J. M., Swartzendruber, A. L., Eriksen, M. D., DiClemente, R. J., & Rose, E. S. (2014). Added benefits: Reduced depressive symptom levels among African-American female adolescents participating in an HIV prevention intervention. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(5), 912-920. doi:10.1007/s10865-013-9551-4
Byrne, B. M. (2001). Structural equation modeling with Amos: Basic concepts, applications, and programming. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Capaldi, D., & Stoolmiller, M. (1999). Co-occurrence of conduct problems and depressive symptoms in early adolescent boys: III. Prediction to young-adult adjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 59-84.
Cauffman, E., Feldman, S. S., Waterman, J., & Steiner, H. (1998). Posttraumatic stress disorder among female juvenile offenders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 37, 1209-1216.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2016). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2015. Surveillance Summaries, 65, 1-174. Retrieved from
Chamberlain, P. (2003). The Oregon multidimensional treatment foster care model: Features, outcomes, and progress in dissemination. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 10, 303-312.
Chen, C-Y., Wagner, F., & Anthony, J. (2002). Marijuana use and the risk of major depressive episode: Epidemiological evidence from the United States National Comorbidity Survey. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 37(5), 199-203. doi:10.1007/s00127-002-0541-z
Choenni, V., Hammink, A., & van de Mheen, D. (2017). Association between substance use and the perpetration of family violence in industrialized countries. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 18(1), 37. doi:10.1177/1524838015589253
Coolidge, F. L., DenBoer, J. W., & Segal, D. L. (2004). Personality and neuropsychological correlates of bullying behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1559-1569.
Davis, L., & Shlafer, R. J. (2017). Mental health of adolescents with currently and formerly incarcerated parents. Journal of Adolescence, 54, 120-134.
Day, A., Thurlow, K., & Woolliscroft, J. (2003). Working with childhood sexual abuse: A survey of mental health professionals. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27(2), 191-198.
Dembo, R., DiClemente, R. J., Brown, R., Faber, J., Cristiano, J., & Terminello, A. (2016). Health coaches: An innovative and effective approach for identifying and addressing the health need of justice involved youth. Journal of Community Medicine & Health Education. DOI: 10.4172/2161-0711.1000490
Dembo, R., & Walters, W. (2012). Juvenile assessment centers: Early intervention with youth involved in drug use. In N. Jainchill (Ed.), Understanding and treating adolescent substance use disorders (pp. 15-28). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.
Dembo, R., Faber, J., Cristiano, J., Wareham, R., DiClemente, R. J., Krupa, J. M., & Terminello, A. (Under review). Psychometric evaluation of a brief depression measure for justice involved youth: A multi-group comparison. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.
Dierkhising, C. B., Ko, S. J., Woods-Jaeger, B., Briggs, E. C., Lee, R., & Pynoos, R. S. (2013). Trauma histories among justice-involved youth: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4(1), 1-12. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.20274
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Croft, J. B., Edwards, V. J., & Giles, W. H. (2001). Growing up with parental alcohol abuse: Exposure to childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Child Abuse and Neglect, 25, 1627-1640.
Duke, N. N., Pettingell, S. L., McMorris, B. J., & Borowsky, I. W. (2010). Adolescent violence perpetration: Associations with multiple types of adverse childhood experiences. Pediatrics, 125, e779-e786.
Eiden, R. D., Ostrov, J. M., Colder, C. R., Leonard, K. E., Edwards, E. P., & Orrange-Torchia, T. (2010). Parent alcohol problems and peer bullying and victimization: Child gender and toddler attachment security as moderators. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 39(3), 341-350. doi:10.1080/15374411003691768
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., ... & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.
Finkelhor, D., & Shattuck, A. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.
Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2012). Child and youth victimization known to school, police, and medical officials in a national sample of children and youth. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, (No. NCJ 235394). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Ford, J. D., & Blaustein, M. (2012). System self-regulation: A framework for trauma-informed services in residential juvenile justice programs. Journal of Family Violence, 28, 655-677.
Ford, J. D., Cruise, K. R., & Grasso, D. J. (2017). A study of the impact of screening for poly-victimization in juvenile justice, (No. NOJ 2012-IJ-CX-0046). Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
Ford, J. D., Grasso, D. J., Hawke, J., & Chapman, J. F. (2013). Poly-victimization among juvenile justice-involved youths. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 788-800.
Ford, J. D., Kerig, P. K., Desai, N., & Feierman, J. (2016). Psychosocial interventions for traumatized youth in the juvenile justice system: Clinical, research, and legal perspectives. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 5, 31-49.
Ford, J. D., Steinberg, K. L., Hawke, J., Levine, J., & Zhang, W. L. (2012). Randomized trial comparisons of emotion regulation and relational psychotherapies for PTSD with girls involved in delinquency. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 41, 27-37.
Foy, D. W., Ritchie, I. K., & Conway, A. H. (2012). Trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress, and comorbidities in female adolescent offenders: Findings and implications from recent studies. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 3, 17247. doi:10.3402iejpt.v3i0.17247
Freudenberg, N. (2009). Incarcerated and delinquent youth. In R. J. DiClemente, J. S. Santelli, & R. A. Crosby (Eds.), Adolescent health: Understanding and preventing risk behaviors (pp. 339-358). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Girardet, R. G., Lahoti, S., Howard, L. A., Fajman, N. N., Sawyer, M. K., Driebe, E. M.,... Hammerschlag, M. R. (2009). Epidemiology of sexually transmitted infections in suspected child victims of sexual assault. Pediatrics, 124(1), 79-86.
Hallfors, D. D., Waller, M. W., Bauer, D., Ford, C. A., & Halpern, C. T. (2005). Which comes first in adolescence—Sex and drugs or depression? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29(3), 163-170. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2005.06.002
Hanson, R. F., Self-Brown, S., Fricker-Elhai, A., Kilpatrick, D. G., Saunders, B. E., & Resnick, H. (2006). Relations among parental substance use, violence exposure and mental health: the national survey of adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 31(11), 1988-2001.
Horwood, L. J., Fergusson, D. M., Coffey, C., Patton, G. C., Tait, R., Smart, D.,…Hutchinson, D. M. (2012). Cannabis and depression: An integrative data analysis of four Australian cohorts. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 126(3), 369-378.
Institute of Behavioral Research. (2014). TCU drug screen V (TCUDS V). Ft. Worth, TX: Texas Christian University, Institute of Behavioral Research.
Kampfner, C. J. (1995). Post-traumatic stress reactions in children of imprisoned mothers. In K. Gabel & D. Johnston (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents (pp. 21-30). New York: Lexington Books.
Kellogg, N. D., Hoffman, T. J., & Taylor, E. R. (1999). Early sexual experiences among pregnant and parenting adolescents. Adolescence, 34(134), 293.
Kendler, K. S., Bulik, C. M., Silberg, J., Hettema, J. M., Myers, J., & Prescott, C. A. (2000). Childhood sexual abuse and adult psychiatric and substance use disorders in women: An epidemiological and Cotwin control analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57(10), 953-959.
Kilpatrick, D. G., Ruggiero, K. J., Acierno, R., Saunders, B. E., Resnick, H. S., & Best, C. L. (2003). Violence and risk of PTSD, major depression, substance abuse/dependence, and comorbidity: results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(4), 692.
Kumpulainen, K., Rasanen, E., & Henttonen, I. (1999). Children involved in bullying: Psychological disturbance and the persistence of the involvement. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 1253-1262.
Ko, S. J., Ford, J. D., Kassam-Adams, N., Berkowitz, S. J., Wilson, C., Wong, M.,…Layne, C. M. (2008). Creating trauma-informed systems: Child welfare, education, first responders, health care, juvenile justice. Professional Psychology-Research and Practice, 39, 396-404.
Lakdawalla, Z., Hankin, B. L., & Mermelstien, R. (2007). Cognitive theories of depression in children and adolescents: A conceptual and quantitative review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 10(1), 1-24. doi:10.1007/s10567-006-0013-1
Lehrer, J. A., Shrier, L. A., Gortmaker, S., & Buka, S. (2006). Depressive symptoms as a longitudinal predictor of sexual risk behaviors among US middle and high school students. Pediatrics, 118, 189-200.
Lovallo, W. R., Farag, N. H., Sorocco, K. H., Acheson, A., Cohoon, A. J., & Vincent, A. S. (2013). Early life adversity contributes to impaired cognition and impulsive behavior: studies from the Oklahoma Family Health Patterns Project. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 616-623.
Lyznicki, J. M., McCaffree, M. A., & Robinowitz, C. B. (2004). Childhood bullying: Implications for physicians. American Family Physician, 70, 1723-1728.
McGee, R., Williams, S., Poulton, R., & Moffitt, T. (2000). A longitudinal study of cannabis use and mental health from adolescence to early adulthood. Addiction, 95(4), 491-503. doi:10.1046/j.1360-0443.2000.9544912.x
Melchior, L. A., Huba, G. J., Brown, V. B., & Reback, C. J. (1993). A short depression index for women. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53(4), 1117-1125. doi:10.1177/0013164493053004024
Mumola, C. J. (2000). Incarcerated parents and their children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., & Sekol, I. (2012). Children's antisocial behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after parental incarceration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 175-210.
Muthén, L. K. & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2017). Mplus user’s guide, 8th edition. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.
Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, W. J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among US youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. JAMA, 285(16), 2094-2100.
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. (2010). Behind bars II: Substance abuse and America’s prison population. Retrieved from
Noll, J. G., Trickett, P. K., & Putnam, F. W. (2003). A prospective investigation of the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the development of sexuality. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 71(3), 575.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention [OJJDP]. (2001). Addressing the problem of juvenile bullying. OJJDP Fact Sheet, #27. Washington, DC: U.S. Department o Justice, OJJDP.
Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (1999). Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80, 124-134.
Paolucci, E. O., Genuis, M. L., & Violato, C. (2001). A meta-analysis of the published research on the effects of child sexual abuse. The Journal of psychology, 135(1), 17-36.
Patton, G. C., Coffey, C., Carlin, J. B., Degenhardt, L., Lynskey, M., & Hall, W. (2002). Cannabis use and mental health in young people: Cohort study. The BMJ, 325, 1195-1198. doi:10.1136/bmj.325.7374.1195
Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1(3), 385-401. doi:10.1177/014662167700100306
Repetto, P. B., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. H. (2008). A longitudinal study of depressive symptoms and marijuana use in a sample of inner-city African Americans. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18(3), 421-447. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2008.00566.x
Riggs Romaine, C. L., Sevin Goldstein, N. E., Hunt, E., & DeMatteo, D. (2011). Traumatic experiences and juvenile amenability: The role of trauma in forensic evaluations and judicial decision making. Child & Youth Care Forum, 40, 363-380.
Roustit, C., Campoy, E., Chaix, B., & Chauvin, P. (2010). Exploring mediating factors in the association between parental psychological distress and psychosocial maladjustment in adolescence. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(7), 597-604.
Santor, D. A., & Coyne, J. C. (1997). Shortening the CES-D to improve its ability to detect cases of depression. Psychological Assessment, 9(3), 233–243. doi:10.1037/1040-3590.9.3.233
Shetgiri, R. (2013). Bullying and victimization among children. Advances in Pediatrics, 60(1), 33-51.
Shrier, L. A., Harris, S. K., & Beardslee, W. R. (2002). Temporal associations between depressive symptoms and self-reported sexually transmitted disease among adolescents. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 156, 599-606.
Smith, D. K., Chamberlain, P., & Mark, E. J. (2010). Preliminary support for multidimensional treatment foster care in reducing substance use in delinquent boys. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 19, 343-358.
Smith, G. A., Baum, C. R., Dowd, M. D., Durbin, D. R., Quinian, K. P., Sege, R. D.,… Wright, J. L. (2009). Policy statement-role of the pediatrician in youth violence prevention. Pediatrics, 124, 393-402.
Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. A NIBRS Statistical Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
Snyder, Z. K., Carlo, T. A., & Coats Mullins, M. M. (2001). Parenting from prison: An examination of a children’s vision program at a women’s correctional facility. Marriage & Family Review, 32, 33-61.
Stein, L. A. R., Lebeau, R., Colby, S. M., Barnett, N. P., Golembeske, C., & Monti, P. M. (2011). Motivational interviewing for incarcerated adolescents: Effects of depressive symptoms on reducing alcohol and marijuana use after release. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 72(3), 497-506.
Swisher, R. R., & Shaw-Smith, U. R. (2015). Paternal incarceration and adolescent well-being: Life course contingencies and other moderators. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 104(4), 929-959.
The Sentencing Project. (2017). Trends in U.S. corrections. Retrieved from
Teplin, L. A., Abram, K. M., McClelland, G. M., Dulcan, M. K., & Mericle, A.A. (2002). Psychiatric disorders in youth in detention. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(12), 1133-1143. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.59.12.1133
Teplin, L. A., Elkington, K. S., McClelland, G. M., Abram, K. M., Mericle, A. A., & Washburn, J. J. (2005). Major mental disorders, substance use disorders, comorbidity, and HIV-AIDS risk behaviors in juvenile detainees. Psychiatric Services, 56(7), 823-828. doi:10.1176/
Thornberry, T. P., Henry, K. L., Ireland, T. O., & Smith, C. A. (2010). The causal impact of childhood-limited maltreatment and adolescent maltreatment on early adult adjustment. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(4), 359-365.
Townsend, C., & Rheingold, A. A. (2013). Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: A review of child sexual abuse prevalence studies. Charleston, SC: Darkness to Light. Retrieved from
Tsitsika, A. K., Barlou, E., Andrie, E., Dimitropoulou, C., Tzavela, E. C., Janikian, M., & Tsolia, M. (2014). Bullying behaviors in children and adolescents: An ongoing story. Frontiers in Public Health, 2(7), 1-4.
Tucker, L. R., & Lewis, C. (1973). A reliability coefficient for maximum likelihood factor analysis. Psychometrika, 38, 1-10.
Vaughn, M. G., Fu, Q., Bender, K., DeLisi, M., Beaver, K. M., Perron, B. E., & Howard, M. O. (2010). Psychiatric correlates of bullying in the United States: Findings from a national sample. Psychiatric Quarterly, 81(3), 183-195.
Walker, E. A., Katon, W. J., Hansom, J., Harrop-Griffiths, J., Holm, L., Jones, M. L.,... Jemelka, R. P. (1992). Medical and psychiatric symptoms in women with childhood sexual abuse. Psychosomatic Medicine, 54(6), 658-664.
Walsh, C., MacMillan, H., & Jamieson, E. (2003). The relationships between parental substance abuse and child maltreatment: Findings from the Ontario Health Supplement. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1409-1425.
Widom, C. S. (1997). Child abuse, neglect, and witnessing violence. In D. M. Stoff, J. Breiling, & J. D. Maser (Eds.), Handbook of antisocial behavior (pp. 159-170). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.
Wilkinson, A. L., Halpern, C. T., & Herring, A. H. (2016). Directions of the relationship between substance use and depressive symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood. Addictive Behaviors, 60, 64-70. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.036